How Listening to my Inner Voice Saved my Life

Disclosure :: Our breast cancer awareness series is sponsored by Touro Infirmary.

The Diagnosis

There was a little voice inside of me that said “go!” If you have ever dismissed your inner voice, please learn from my story, because listening to mine saved my life! I was just 39 years old when my life changed forever. I had an instinctual feeling that I needed to go get a mammogram. My grandmother, who I respectfully owe my strawberry blonde hair and fair skin to, died from breast cancer when my mom was just 8 years old. I went to visit my OB/GYN and shared my concerns, and we both agreed that despite my age, I would get a mammogram to use as a baseline for the future. The scan revealed something of concern on the left side, and through my tears, I scheduled a biopsy. On October 2nd, ironically in the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductile Carcinoma.

Watercolor strips seamless pattern set.Vintage backgroundLooking out my window, I tried to process my doctor’s words. I had cancer. It felt like I was in a dream. This couldn’t be happening to me. How could I have breast cancer so young and with no symptoms? Yet, for some strange reason, I knew this was a part of my life’s journey. So with a support system around me filled with my loving family and best friends, I went into survival mode. I had to live. My children need their mother. My husband needs his wife. I had to do everything I could do to beat this. My breast surgeon said that because I caught the cancer so early, the next course of treatment was up to me. I could do a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy. How in the world was I supposed to make this decision?! I’m not a doctor or a nurse. I had no idea what to do; I was so overwhelmed. I was consumed with researching what other brave ones had done before me, but I still didn’t know what course of treatment would be best. I did some serious soul searching and prayed for a sign to make this decision easier. I came to the conclusion that instead of worrying about what everyone else was choosing to do in their battle with cancer, I would focus inward and really experience what I needed to do for my family and me.

I Will Beat This!

I chose a bilateral mastectomy. I needed to fight hard and lower my risk of recurrence because I only wanted to go through this once. I couldn’t bear the thought of my children growing up without their mom. I thought of my mom who, at the tender age of 8 years old, learned to move on in life without her loving mother. My daughter was 8 years old at the time of my diagnosis. It took my breath away to realize this connection. I saw my mom in my daughter, and my heart hurt for all that she had lost at such a young age. I didn’t want that to be my daughter’s story. I summoned up all the courage I had and decided to beat this! With a plan in place, the next step was to tell my children.

How in the world do you explain cancer to a two, five, and eight year old? It made me cry every time I thought about looking into their eyes to tell them that their mom was sick. I didn’t want them to worry or be scared on my account, but I also knew that they needed to know as they were on this journey with me.  We decided to tell the boys together as they were the youngest, and we had a separate conversation with my daughter because we knew she would understand more. With a lump in my throat, I explained that there were some bad cells in mommy’s body and the doctor was going to cut them out and throw them in the trash forever. My boys were mostly interested in what kind of band-aid I was going to have! I explained I would have the most awesome band-aid ever and was grateful for their innocence and lack of understanding. My beautiful daughter was full of questions. She understood and wanted to know every detail of what was going to happen. So that she had something positive to focus on, we decided when mommy was done with surgery, we would have a “pink party,” and she was in charge. She immediately got one of her notebooks and was busy planning decorations, food, and drawing pictures of the best pink cake there ever was. My children’s resiliency gave me the strength I needed just in time for the surgery that was going to save my life.

Cancer Free

IMG_6884On November 17th, I woke up in my hospital bed cancer FREE and with the assurance that this ugly disease had not spread to any lymph nodes. I breathed a sigh of relief and focused on my recovery. I got stronger every day with the help of “Team Lauryn” who loved, fed, and took care of me and my family every day. I was, and still am, so humbled by the support around us! Finally, on one fine day in December, my doctor called while I was at Whole Foods with my mom. My oncotype score came back low which meant that the chance of the cancer coming back was less than 9%. She felt that chemo would not be beneficial in my situation. My mom and I cried that day in the grocery store, and hugged, and cried some more … right by the rotisserie chicken! I immediately felt a renewed sense of strength for the upcoming breast reconstruction I was facing. I was ready to put myself back together.

The reconstruction part of my journey has definitely not gone according to plan. Today, almost a year post mastectomy, I have endured 2 tissue expander infections and 5 surgeries. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but facing cancer with all its struggles definitely forces one to learn how to persevere. When the first tissue expander came out due to infection, I stood in front of the mirror and sobbed. Standing there seeing my breast gone, was the first time I was able to see the affects of this horrible disease. It’s really hard to see your body broken and unrecognizable. Knowing what I know now, do I regret my decision for such a radical surgery? I absolutely do not regret anything. I know there is a reason for all that I am going though. Sometimes it is hard to see the blessings in disguise when you are in the middle of the journey, but when I look at my family I know that I made the right decision for me! In November, I will be one step closer to being me again. I will have a DIEP flap reconstructive surgery where the doctors will use my own tissue to reconstruct! Your body doesn’t reject its own tissue which means no more infection for me!! I can see a light at the end of the tunnel! I am ready to put this behind me and move forward as the new ME!

My family vacationed in Yellowstone this summer, and during the car ride to the park, I was overcome with emotion. Everywhere I looked seemed to be touched by the hand of God. The majestic mountains were covered with a blanket of aspen and pine trees while their bare tops glistened with a touch of snow. The vast sky stretched above us crystal clear and full of life. Sunshine beamed down through the wildflowers leaving a peaceful ambiance. Music was playing as my childrens’ sweet voices filled the car. I looked at my husband and grabbed his hand as tears rolled down my face. I was so happy to be alive. This is why I fight – to live every day with my loved ones. I am so thankful for the journey I am on. Is it strange to be thankful for such an awful disease such as breast cancer? I choose to be thankful because so much good and so many lessons have come out of a terribly scary situation. I hope that I have shown my three beautiful babies, Ansley, Braden and Casen what courage looks like, and how to remain positive through adversity. By listening to my inner voice, I caught cancer early and beat it! I truly look forward to each and every day of my life and am sincerely grateful for the love around me as I continue to move forward as a breast cancer survivor.

About Lauryn Burkhalter

IMG_4032Lauryn Burkhalter is a Colorado native who now calls Georgia home. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Mass Communications and a minor in Business. She was a Regional Sales Director for a national healthcare company before deciding to stay home with her babies. Besides volunteering in her children’s schools, Lauryn is the Director for Starr’s Mill Youth Cheerleading as well as a member of the Advisory Board for Koman Atlanta. She has been married to her loving husband, Brian, for 12 years and has three beautiful babies, Ansley (9), Braden (6), and Casen (3). Always being up for an adventure, Lauryn loves to snow ski, travel, and cheer for her Auburn Tigers!


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